Thursday, June 21, 2012

A New Deal - Vassar

Today, Columbia's cohort plus Ms. K headed to the train station, ready to get on the one hour train to Poughkeepsie, New York. After picking up a quick breakfast, we boarded the train and sat together, adoring the Hudson River. The adventure of the day was first visiting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (FDR) home, see his and his wife Eleanor's tombstone, and then go to the information session and tour for Vassar College.
FDR and Henry A. Wallace
Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR
The tour began with a recollection of FDR's political accomplishments, from being governor of New York to being elected President of the United States for four terms (he fully served three). FDR married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905 and had six children with her (one died in infancy), and died in 1945 due to cardiac complications. One of the major hurdles FDR had to deal with during his life was the fact that he suffered from polio. He developed polio at age 39 and from then on could never walk normally again. He was either in a wheelchair, walked holding onto a Secret Service man or his son Jim (it was stated that once that FDR gripped Jim's arm so tightly that from the wrist to the elbow was black and blow), or walked with steel crutches that were attached to the arms. FDR went to great lengths to hide how disabled he was, as there are only two photographs of him in a wheelchair (I've seen one of them). I found it fascinating out FDR pushed himself so much to maintain a good physique and even try and help his very weak hips and legs. He would do his own fire drills that would consist of him crawling out of bed, crawling down the stairs, and rolling out of the house on his belly. He would force himself to walk up and down the pathways behind his summer house. The determination that he had not just for America to succeed and push through the Great Depression and World War II but towards maintaining good health was absolutely incredible and definitely admirable.

We then walked to the summer house, which is a three-story mansion. I absolutely loved the architecture and the inside was incredible. FDR, Eleanor, their children, six servants, and FDR's mother lived in the house. I found it interesting how Eleanor and FDR lived in separate bedrooms, and not to mention that Sarah's bedroom was across the hall from Eleanor's. Some may find it strange that FDR allowed his mother to live in the house with him, but the property entirely belonged to Sarah. After touring the house, I went to the Rose Garden with the others and saw FDR and Eleanor's tombstone.

Statue of FDR and Eleanor
Summer house!

Inside of the house
Dining hall
Statue of FDR at age 29. Some find it interesting that he had no legs in this statue, which foreshadowed the future
Living room
Dumbwaiter where FDR pulled himself up every day
Guest bedroom
The black cape at the far right is the cape FDR wore at the Yalta Conference in 1945. By this time, his health was quickly declining; in pictures it is clear that he is very weak
FDR's bedroom
Drawing of several versions of FDR
FDR had a fear of fires due to seeing a relative burned alive. This woman (whose name I do not remember) who face is pictured above was heating a curling iron but rubbing alcohol spilled and she caught aflame. FDR watched her run from the house screaming and saw her burning, which caused a lifelong fear of fire
FDR and Eleanor's tombstone
Morvarid in the Rose Garden 
Lunch - chicken noodle soup with crackers
After the tour, the cohort went back inside and watched a twenty minute film about FDR and Eleanor's dedication to America. I found it amazing to hear FDR speak because I had never heard his voice before, he had a very commanding voice and charismatic presence to him. It was also wonderful to hear Marian Anderson sing; Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial in front of millions. Seeing the Roosevelt's contributions to America really showed the importance of the Roosevelt family. Their grandchild, Anna, also spoke in the film, and she has the exact same smile as Eleanor.

We got lunch before heading to Vassar College. I was taken away by Vassar's vast beauty. After waiting in the admissions office for a half hour reading brochures, we were taken to the nearby auditorium and listened to the information session.

Interesting Facts about Vassar College: 

1. Vassar is a residential co-educational school with about 2,400 students. Vassar was a women's only college until 1969, and even then it took a while to get more males to attend (the first class to accept males only had 5 males). There is no graduate school at Vassar, which makes it easier to have a stronger undergraduate focus. 

2. There is no core curriculum or distribution requirements at Vassar. Students are free to design their own education, except Vassar does require three outside requirements: a language course, a quantitative course (such as a mathematics or psychology course), and a Freshman Writing seminar. Students are given a Pre-Major Adviser for their underclassmen years who helps students in choosing their majors. For their upperclassmen years, students are given a Major Adviser who helps with the last two years of college. Students are able to chose their Advisers. Twenty percent of students double major and most majors require around twelve courses, while minor courses are about six courses. There are three categories students can chose to major from:
  • Department Majors - Single subject majors ranging from anthropology to physical education to music 
  • Interdepartmental Programs - Two subject majors ranging from biochemistry to geography-anthropology to Neuroscience & Behavior
  • Multidisciplinary Programs - Anything that ends with "studies", such as Africana Studies to Environmental Studies. Students can also design their own major in this category 
3. Vassar has mostly discussion-based classes that are very small, sometimes even with only 5 students. There are not a lot of lecture-based classes at Vassar. Vassar students are reported to be very into research and do a lot of research/field projects, as well as internships; sixty percent of Vassar students do internships in the Hudson Valley area and ten percent do them in New York City. There is an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, so like Sarah Lawrence College, Vassar students get a lot of interaction with their professors.

4. Study Abroad is very popular at Vassar. There are over 100 programs in several different countries. Students must at least have a 3.0 GPA, have proficiency in the language, and have good justification for why they want to study abroad.

5. There are nine residential houses at Vassar, and all freshman are assigned a roommate. After that, students can live in singles. Seniors can live in townhouses or apartments that are usually five minutes away from campus. There is no Greek life or themed houses at Vassar, but a lot of acapella and theater performances.

6. There are three ways to apply to Vassar, which are Early Decision I & II, and Regular Decision (same as Sarah Lawrence). The admission's officer that lead the information session admitted that Vassar has a higher admittance rate by over ten percent for Early Decision in comparison to Regular Decision because they feel that ED applicants really love Vassar. Vassar is looking for students who have a high rigor, good grades (most Vassar students had an A to A- average in high school, so around an average unweighted/weighted GPA of 3.8 on 4.0 scale) and have completed four years of English, mathematics, science, language, and history, and have a good focus on standardized tests. Vassar super-scores all standardized tests if retaken, meaning they take the highest scores from each section and add them up to create your highest score. Vassar really wants to see students who have leadership skills with commitment to at least three activities.

7. Vassar's application only requires two letters of recommendation: one from a guidance counselor and another from a teacher, although students can send in more letters from teachers if they want to. The personal statement essay was looked on as it can neither "help you or hurt you", meaning that Vassar does not put a huge emphasis on the personal statement because according to them, "they read so many." Some personal statement mishaps they considered are statements about an "educational trip that a student took" and a "person that shaped you." The admission's officer stated that students should really write about themselves and their experiences. Vassar has a small supplement, there is only one essay question: "Why Vassar?" Students can also submit their work, such as creative works and even objects. The admission's officer said he had seen so many things, such as home-made fudge and even a personalized tote bag. Students can send in YouTube videos or their own magazines that describe them.

8. Vassar provides need-based aid, and about sixty percent of students are on financial aid at the school.

Inside one of Vassar's theaters

Outside of a Vassar dormitory
Some books inside of Vassar's main library
A single dorm at Vassar
Outside of the main library

Lincoln's body was carried in a train that passed through Poughkeepsie
The current Vassar president's house
I had mixed feelings about Vassar. I especially liked how they had a great focus in the arts, especially writing and music (there are so many opportunities for non-music majors - I could continue my piano lessons there! There is a Steinway piano in each common room of every dorm at Vassar). The campus was also completely gorgeous. However, the biggest red flag to me was how isolated the campus seemed. While they did have sports and some clubs, they didn't talk too much about them. Poughkeepsie is also a very small and seemingly quiet, and the train ride from the city is not quick - it took about over an hour. Vassar definitely seemed to be its own little bubble, and I want to go to a college that has a city around it so I can be around real people.

After the tour (which was very nice), we headed back to the train station. Our train was thirty minutes late, so that wasn't fun. However, this was better than yesterday, since we had an hour to get ready before dinner. We went to Le Bernardin, a very fancy restaurant that is close to Times Square. The best part of the dinner was that the woman sitting at the table next to us was Meryl Streep. I think that made all of us very giddy on the inside. She is even more beautiful in person, and she was dressed very casually in a summer dress, with small glasses on, and very little makeup. I am simply...enchanted by her presence.

Besides that wonderful piece of information, we spent majority of dinner talking about ways to improve the Ivy League Connection, bring more outreach to our classmates, and keep on with the college-going-culture. I won't go too into detail because this conversation lasted for over an hour and it would be extremely difficult to try and explain. To sum it up, we all have varying opinions but can come to a common ground that in our district, more students need to be excited about college.

From the tasting menu
Salmon with ginger sauce
Lenny, Ms. L, and Tomi
Octopus with tomato and pesto sauce - delicious!
Filet mignon
Assorted vegetables
Sorbets and tea cookies
Group Photo outside the restaurant
Girls! (= (minus Tomi)
Behind us is the fabulous Times Square!
Momo loving Times Square!
It's been a crazy day. Tomorrow we tour Yale and I could not be more excited to see New Haven!

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